Getting into the place isn't the problem.
In Nikkatsu roman porno the question, as always, is exactly how the script will place the female lead under the control of men determined to use her. In Dan Oniroku kurokami nawa fujin, aka Black Hair Velvet Soul, it's alcoholism and debt. A gambling and philandering husband owes a pile to a slimy financier, so he puts up as collateral the restaurant he owns with his wife. Izumi Shima plays the wife. Because the place was founded by her father and succeeded because of his sweat and struggle, as she notes in a monologue, she sees no other choice but to agree to work off the debt in an S&M club run by the financier. She goes through the usual range of indignities, but in what has to be considered a bit of a twist, she at no point likes it, nor has some inner freak unleashed, nor somehow dies by ironic means. She does her bit, the restaurant is saved, and she leaves her shitty husband. Why watch the movie? Well, because Shima is a shimmering goddess and she's always worth watching. Sixty-six minutes including credits and you're done. Dan Oniroku kurokami nawa fujin premiered today in 1982.
Need a little help around the house?
Above is a poster for Dorei keiyakushu, yet another entry in Nikkatsu's roman porno pantheon, and one that gets viewers to the usual place by a slightly different route. The film opens with Nami Matsukawa having her pubic hair shaved off by a man. She isn't too thrilled about it. Then he gives her an enema, and it's us who aren't too thrilled. Then he binds her in rope kinbaku-bi style, basically wrapping her like a gift, carefully places her in a crate with some packing material, closes it up and has some delivery guys take the container away. The parcel ends up in the house of Hidekazu Mikami, who's surprised as hell when he opens it, as is his wife, played by Izumi Shima. Imagine explaining that. A sheaf of legal documents around Nami's neck says that she's a slave and will serve as payment of a debt. And just like that it's straight to the kinky sex and domination. You can always count on Nikkatsu—they never fail to get you to bondage land, if indeed that's where you want to go. Us, we can take or leave it. Even though we have many more roman porno posters we'd like to share, we may shift more toward Toei's pinky violence action movies for a while. They're harder to find, but worth the effort—and we can only watch so many enemas. Dorei keiyakushu premiered in Japan today in 1982.
It says she'll do anything you ask. Laundry, dishes, handjobs, whatever.
Baby, I swear I didn't order a slave.
But as long as we have one...
When we get together we do the usual stuff—chat, drink wine, endure whippings, have a forced enema or two.
We don't share pinku and roman porno posters just because we're interested in the films. We also share them because, first, the art is always great, and second, it's easy to get. Its availability is a reflection of how many productions of the type were made—in a word, many hundreds. That's two words. Let's go with thousands—which is not an exaggeration. These were incredibly popular films is the point, made by multiple studios trying to place double features into vertically integrated, wholly dependent cinemas every weekend. Many of the movies have fallen prey to the ravages of time, which occasionally leads to us sharing art from movies that no longer exist, but today's offering, Nawa to chibusa, aka Rope and Breasts, starring Nami Matsukawa and Izumi Shima, is one we did in fact find and watch.
The movie premiered in Japan today in 1983, and it involves a couple running a traveling bdsm show who arrive in Kyoto and are hired for a private performance that turns into something more. The woman is planning to retire, but now learns what bondage and discipline really are as she and her man are teased and tortured to within an inch of their sanity. When all is said and done the woman forgets retirement, not because she loves torture, but because she realizes her life is hell anyway and if she has to live in hell she'd like to at least make money from it. Very upbeat stuff. An interesting aspect of the copy we saw is its use of pixelation to obscure the private parts of the actors (see below). Since roman pornos are softcore the masking is purely directorial flourish, designed, we suppose, to give the action a veneer of the forbidden.
For those who've missed our previous discussions about the roman porno genre, the filmmakers generally contend that the sexual abuse depicted is symbolic of patriarchal Japan's subjugation to occupying Americans, or to modern life, or to a burgeoning counterculture, etc. As a smart man once said, when something is symbolic of everything, it's symbolic of nothing. In other words, we don't buy the boilerplate on roman porno, at least not fully. We think it was primarily money driven, and the more intellectual aspects were secondary, distantly. But the main thing we try to remember as outsiders looking in is that cultural judgement is a slippery slope, and while in this particular 2018 moment of discussion about the all too prevalent dangers men present to women, it's easy to dismiss roman porno films as masculine horror fantasies sprung from the brows of unrepentant misogynists.
But times change, and there are layers to the issue that make such assessments a bit too facile. It's possible to be on one side of a cultural issue during a certain moment in time, but be judged as on the exact opposite side a generation or two later. Today's observers could easily conclude that roman porno filmmakers were conservative nationalists, but in reality they were mainly liberal feminist allies satirizing conservative patriarchs/patriots. Their sexualization of women was spurred in part by box office need, but they believed in their own symbolism and there's no doubt most of them thought of themselves as modernist trailblazers smashing social barriers. The path their output has taken through the decades is parallel to that of Hugh Hefner, hailed as women's rights hero in 1967, reviled as a cog in a destructive porno machine half a century later. Times change.
If Japanese viewers of 1980s American horror movies had demanded to know why so many productions featured people being lured into the woods to be slaughtered it would have led to some uncomfortable conversations about apocalyptic American attitudes toward sex, as well as the eternal American worship of violence. These discussions would have been much more needed than any concerning 1970s Japanese mores. But as for modern observers, they get to judge earlier filmmakers only up to a point. They weren't there. They forget that work incommercial media has its demands, if the work is to be secured at all. Old targets are no longer fully relevant, as well as being way too easy to criticize in hindsight. Subversive messages are often slipped into popular art and those messages matter. They wink at us. They say, “You and I both know this is just entertainment, but this other thing—if you are detecting it—is what we're really about here.” But modern viewers of old films often miss these important messages. As culture changes receptivity to these small signals change too.
So, okay, Nawa to chibusa is a weird movie. It's a weird movie hailing from a weird genre. The genre was meant to both make money and provoke people, and all these years later the films remain as artifacts of an industry embarked upon a radical social discussion, spearheaded by filmmakers who hadn't yet realized that images also carry weight apart from their alleged political intent. In other words, the question becomes whether the same goals could have been achieved by other means—i.e. other means of provocation, other types of imagery. We can't answer that. We weren't there. We don't know of anyone who has tallied the social gains and losses, if any, brought about by all this shocking cinema. All we have is an inadequate twenty-first century perspective, an inadequate Western perspective, an incomplete male perspective, and a whole lot of crazy posters.
Junko Mabuki starts a chain reaction.
Junko Mabuki is an important actress of second generation Japanese S&M movies, and that's her above on a poster for Dan Oniroku onna biyoshi nawa shiku, aka Female Beautician Rope Discipline. What you see is what you get here. Junko meets a photographer who shoots bondage and discipline. At first she's repulsed, but, this being a roman porno flick, the thought of it grows in her mind. Meanwhile we meet Izumi Shima, one of the photog's bondage subjects. Junko soon crosses paths with Izumi and is attracted to her—and who wouldn't be?—but it's just the beginning of a descent into degradation, jealousy, and serious male-driven pee-version.
We're still trying wrap our heads around the various forms of Japanese cinema. Toei's pinky violence films usually had cool ’70s street action and ass kicking gang girls, whereas Nikkatsu's roman porno had submissive women and sexual subjugation. They're all generally considered to be pink films, along with output from OP Eiga and other studios, but to us they're night and day. Pinky violence and roman porno represent two big studios in competition with each other, but more and more the patriarchy smashing ethos of the former feels like a rebuttal to the latter. In this one, though, the sadistic photographer gets his—spoiler alert!—head deservedly bashed in. Dan Oniroku onna biyoshi nawa shiku premiered in Japan today in 1981.
Three may be a crowd, but it's also a lot of fun.
We rarely see promo posters of Japanese films from other countries that are visually interesting, but this one from the former Yugoslavia breaks the trend. It's for a film called in Croatian Hiljadu i jedna noć u Tokiju. The title in Japanese was 东京厄洛斯一千零一夜. In both languages you get a translation along the lines of “Tokyo One Thousand and One Nights,” referencing the famed collection of folk and erotic tales from the Islamic Golden Age. In romanized Japanese the title was Tokyo eros senya ichiya, and in English it was Eros Nights in Tokyo, which omits the Arabian Nights reference for some reason. We haven't seen the film, but it starred three of our favorite Japanese actresses—Izumi Shima, Megi Ayako, and Erina Miyai—which means we'll be looking for it. If we find it we'll revisit this subject. Tokyo eros senya ichiya opened in Japan today in 1979.
Please don't tease the animals.
Operating on the same level of explicitness as cable softcore doesn't mean roman porno flicks can't push the envelope. Japanese filmmakers working in this genre were solidly experienced by the time Dan Oniroku aoi onna came along, and it's amazing how adept they were at implying everything while showing little. Content-wise Dan Oniroku aoi onna gets pretty far out. The film had no U.S. release, but the title would be “Oniroku Dan,” after Japan's most famous author of sado-masochist fiction, and “blue girl.” The blue girl in question is Izumi Shima, one of roman porno's truly radiant actresses, who spends most of this film trapped in a perverted private sex club in bondage-related distress. We could describe how she ends up in this place, but why bother? We could also describe the various pokings, proddings, and probings the lovely Miss Zu endures, but there's no point. She's naked and helpless is all you need to know, and that—apparently—is what drew Japanese audiences to these films in droves. Most of the time we like to provide a set of stills or screen grabs to give you an idea what to expect. For this one we're giving you only a single production photo, below. That should about cover it. Dan Oniroku aoi onna premiered in Japan today 1982.
You can't keep a good girl down.
This dramatic poster was made for Nikutai no mon, aka Gate of Flesh, a movie based on a 1947 novel by Japanese author Taijirô Tamura. The book has been filmed five times. The most famous version was made in 1968 with Jo Shishido and Yumiko Nogawa earning acclaim for their lead roles in what was a serious and artistic film, but the above promo is for the 1977 roman porno version starring Reiko Kayama, Izumi Shima, and Junko Miyahsita. Needless to say, the two films diverge rather sharply. However, we need to point out, as we do periodically, that roman porno isn't porno—it's softcore. The “roman” in roman porno is short for “romantic,” and though the movies aren't typically romantic in the normal sense, they aren't explicit. Such depictions were illegal in Japan back then, and remain so today (though filmmakers use pixilation of sexual organs to skirt the law).
When the novel Nikutai no mon appeared in 1947 a different censorship regime existed called the Civil Censorship Detachment, which was under the authority of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, aka Douglas MacArthur. Under SCAP CCD censorship, explicit accounts of fraternization between Japanese and whites were forbidden, as were detailed accounts of the atomic bombings, or anything that could generate distrust toward the American occupiers. Most Japanese authors obeyed. A few wrote obliquely about the forbidden subjects. And a very few broke the rules entirely to describe war horrors—e.g. flashburned nuclear victims walking naked and blind amongst the ruins, their hairless bodies so swollen their sex could not be determined. Tamura's novel falls in the middle. It tells the story of a group of Japanese women trying to survive in the rubble of Tokyo via prostitution.
Where the 1968 movie stuck pretty close to Tamura's fiction, the roman porno focuses more on the sexploitation angle, though it keeps the action set in 1947. A criminal syndicate known as Black Rose provides Japanese girls as prostitutes to the American military, and any who resist the various examinations, training, and indignities are punished with torture and death. When Reiko Kayama arrives on the scene, she eventually inspires the others to follow her as she leads a revolt against her enslavers. You get sex, girlfights, killings, and blood. If you're looking for standard roman porno fare—with perhaps a bit more visual piazazz than usual thanks to director Shôgorô Nishimura and cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki—you've picked the right film. Nikutai no mon premiered in Japan today in 1977.
She's the light at the end of the tunnel.
Above, Japanese roman porno actress Izumi Shima, whose movies we've written about four times, and who we think is one of the more alluring stars of her era. We've already expended a lot of keyboard time on her, so there's little more to say. Read about her films by starting here and following the subsequent links. This image of her in a big pipe of some sort dates from 1979.
A widow gets back into the swing of things and trouble soon follows.
We're still working on that today-is-yesterday theory. Maybe we better explain. We planned to share both this and the ticket from the above post yesterday, but it's summer and our local beach is hopping and Saturday night we were at a party that didn't end until after sunrise, which pretty much wiped out Sunday for us, except for crawling to the aforementioned beach and sitting under a shady spot and oozing toxins until we were human again. But enough about us. Above you see a poster for 1981's roman porno production Mibōjin no shinshitsu, aka Widow's Bedroom, which we meant to share yesterday, on its premiere day. The movie deals with a smalltown inn proprietress whose husband has committed suicide, which is difficult enough to deal with, but whose situation is complicated by the arrival of two guests—a wheelchair bound novelist there to write a new book, and his beautiful nurse. The writer develops an obsession with the widow, the nurse likewise grows interested in a bit of same-sex fun, the widow's brother-in-law is determined to have her for himself, the dead husband reappears as a figment of the widow's imagination, and so on, in reliably complicated roman porno style, very much like the convoluted sentence we just wrote to describe the plot, and all in just about sixty minutes plus change—the movie, not the sentence. Mibōjin no shinshitsu stars Izumi Shima, who makes every one of those sixty-something minutes worthwhile. In order to make our writing worthwhile we've shared a rare promo image from the film below. Shima was one of Japan's top roman porno stars, and possibly the most beautiful, if one were inclined toward rankings. We've written about other movies of hers, which you can learn about by clicking here.
Once you get her heated up there's no cooling her down.
Danchizuma futari dake no yuru, aka Apartment Wife: Night by Ourselves, premiered in Japan today in 1978, and here you see the promo poster. You know the drill with the Apartment Wife series—sex, bondage, and general perversion reiterated in twenty-one films starring various actresses. This one featured the radiant Izumi Shima, who we last saw in Lady Chatterley in Tokyo grinding on some stiff wood. We mean that literally—she dry fucked a tree. It was hilarious. We'd love to tell you what mischief she gets up to in this movie, but we weren't able to locate a copy. We'll keep looking, of course. In the meantime below is a random promo photo.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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